In her first prime-time GOP presidential primary debate, Carly Fiorina accomplished two great feats: She stunned into silence front-runner and bully Donald Trump, and she attracted renewed attention to a series of sting videos by pro-life group Center for Medical Progress, which seeks to expose the nation’s largest abortion provider as a peddler of unborn baby parts.
In response to a question about whether the candidates would advocate shutting down the government in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, which receives half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds each year, Fiorina said the following:
“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ ”
More than a week after the debate, her unscripted indictment of Planned Parenthood is still drawing ire and criticism for its veracity.
Indeed, her comments forced many members of the media and public to actually watch the videos, if only in their attempts to prove her wrong.
Immediately following the debate, Sarah Kliff of Vox wrote: “Nobody watching the Planned Parenthood tapes would see those things.”
Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero was more blunt: “Carly Fiorina is lying,” he said.
To be fair to Fiorina’s critics, the footage is not exactly as she described. But her account is not as far from the truth as they’d have people believe.
The video (the seventh in a series) released by CMP depicts a former employee of organ harvesting company Stem Express, Holly O’Donnell, describing in graphic detail how she was instructed to remove the brain of “the most gestated fetus and closest thing to a baby” she had ever seen, by cutting through its tiny face.
As the visibly shaken O’Donnell relays the details, the image of what is unmistakably a baby lying in a metal dish appears. Its facial features - eyes, nose and mouth - are pronounced. Its limbs move soundlessly.
The source of the footage is unclear.
But the chilling image of a fully developed fetus dying on a table provides a visual context for her narrative, and it makes Fiorina’s unscripted account more accurate than many of her detractors claim.
It’s hardly the fiction Kliff asserts.
Further, the attack on Fiorina’s statement about one moment in one of the videos ignores the larger context of darkness and inhumanity the series of videos exposes. It’s like quibbling over what exactly John Wilkes Booth shouted after shooting Lincoln.
What’s ironic is that in the debate over the Planned Parenthood videos, misleading statements frequently find their way into the discourse - and quite often the source is Planned Parenthood itself.
Take for example, the organization’s claim that abortion constitutes only a measly 3 percent of its services. The statistic was cited by representatives of the Central Texas branch during a recent editorial board meeting with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
But that number doesn’t represent the percentage of clients who receive abortions, which would provide a better measure of abortion’s significance to the organization’s work.
Presumably, a typical PP client receives a full battery of services on an ordinary visit: HIV test, HPV test, STI test, pregnancy test, counseling, a Pap smear, manual breast exam (PP doesn’t provide mammograms), pelvic exam and maybe even three months of birth control pills. That’s at least nine services.
When asked the average number of services a typical client receives, PP representatives did not have an immediate answer. Perhaps because it would indicate that abortion is a far greater percentage of PP’s work than it would like to concede.
Similarly, PP representatives recited well-worn talking points about the credibility of the video producers, as if CMP’s is the only credibility in question.
The videos provide strong evidence that Planned Parenthood is engaged in a systematic enterprise to harvest and sell fetal organs. And they raise the specter that PP is in some cases likely altering abortion procedures to procure better fetal specimens, and perhaps doing so using the federally banned partial-birth abortion practice.
If truth is what matters, here’s a difficult one to swallow.
Planned Parenthood supporters - who claim to care about “women’s health” and say they want to ensure women have access to “safe and legal” abortion - have a stronger mandate than anyone to ensure the organization is operating not only legally but ethically.
Abortion rights advocates should not only watch these videos, they should ask every question pro-lifers are asking to ensure its practices are transparent and above board.
Before anyone takes issue with this column, I, like Fiorina, challenge you to watch the videos.